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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.

 

Book 6/100: We Are Water by Wally Lamb

We Are Water - Wally Lamb

4.5 stars.

I often find it a lot harder to review the books I really liked than the ones I didn't, so I've been sitting on this review for weeks.

But I really loved this book. There were a couple things about it that annoyed me, so I'll get those out of the way first. I didn't like that so many of the book's most dramatic confrontations or conversations happened "off-screen," so that you would be waiting for the build-up and then only learn how it had actually gone in flashback later. And the myriad issues dealt with started to feel like a little "much" by the end of the book -- pedophilia, murder, child abuse, sexual harassment, disability, divorce, fundamentalism, homosexuality, racism -- it could get to feel a bit like a "roll call" of social issues of the day.

I also wondered a bit about whether Lamb feels some real ambivalence about female sexuality. One of the main characters leaves her husband for a woman, but the way the ex husband and the new love are portrayed, the reader clearly comes to identify with the ex and to view the lesbian lover in a less favorable light. And the "fake" sexual harassment thread is pretty uncomfortable, too, especially when so much sexual harassment in the real world goes on for years without the harassers ever being held accountable.

Yet, what would have been fatal flaws in lesser hands were mere blips on my radar in this book, mostly because its themes and its characters are so richly drawn. It's a long book, but it never felt that way, because I was always ready to sink bank into this family's emotional revelations and quietly significant moments. Although the ex-husband, Orion, was my favorite character, not a single character is without their gray areas -- the best characters have moments of fatal misjudgment, whereas even the pedophile character has redeeming qualities. The end result is a mosaic that is as richly layered and complicated as real life -- it's hard to walk away from this book without feeling that you are leaving behind real people who have somehow become very dear to you in all of their messy realities.

This book offers no easy answers to its central examination of how the effects of abuse can ripple down through the generations in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, or in the ways that we are so often blind to the internal realities of those we love most and think we know best. I was continually amazed at how "talky" the book was -- how almost every scene was just different characters engaged in conversations that were sometimes mundane, sometimes profound, but somehow always worth listening to.

Speaking of which, I experienced the audio version of this book, which I highly recommend. It has a full cast for the many different "voices," allowing you to feel as if you are truly hearing each character tell his or her story. I can't believe it didn't win an Audie.